Published Thursday, 31 October 2013
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As many as 10,000 could take to the streets at the end of November in an ongoing dispute over the flying of the Union flag at City Hall and other issues.
But owners of local shops, pubs and restaurants are concerned that they will take another hit.
Daily protests and rallies caused major disruption during the normally busy shopping season last year, with disorder also affecting trade this summer.
Chris Scott, who runs a sandwich shop in the city centre, said disorder came literally to his business' doorstep.
"At one stage last year we had two opposite fractions of people in front of our shop, tables were lifted and things like that.
"So it was very damaging, customers weren't coming in, customers that were in the shop were afraid to leave the shop."
A retail source has indicated that the trade lost since early December works out at close to £50m in monetary value.
Glyn Roberts, from Northern Ireland Independent Retail Trade Association (NIIRTA), has said whatever the total is, the losses are significant.
Nobody doubts that peaceful protest is absolutely essential in a democracy but, given how much disruption these protests have caused this year, we're asking the organisers to think again.
Glynn Roberts, NIIRTA
"We're very clear we believe this 30 November protest should be called off, it's the busiest shopping day of the year and it could cause significant disruption to traders that are already struggling," Mr Roberts said.
On Wednesday, the Secretary of State Theresa Villiers met with Belfast city centre management to discuss the planned rally on 30 November.
She warned against such action, stressing the "economic dangers" for the whole region.
She said there were "better ways" to resolve issues around flags and parades and that was through the Richard Haass talks process.
Earlier, the US diplomat said he would not "get involved" in the dispute.
Dr Haass travelled to Dublin on Thursday where he met Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister Eamon Gilmore as part of all-party discussions on contentious issues in Northern Ireland, such as parades, flags and emblems, and dealing with the past.
But when probed about the upcoming demonstration, he stressed that he did not have "operational responsibility".
"What I have is a responsibility to work with political leadership, about trying to resolve some of the lingering divisive issues," he said.
Stating that he had "enough on his plate", he commented that "there are mechanisms for dealing with these things".
He said he will focus on improving the way those issues are dealt with on a "macro level" rather than dealing with individual issues.
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